Growing and Cooking Rutabagas: The Every-Person Root

Try cooking and growing rutabagas, and this unique vegetable might well win you over.

| November/December 2011

  • rutabaga-cubed
    The rutabaga is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, and its name literally means "root bag." Sijlstra
  • rutabaga-crate
    Though most are purple-collared, rutabaga varieties with green collars are available. These are a French variety called Jaune Collet Vert.
    Jean-Marie Polese/Fotolia
  • rutabaga-freshly-harvested
    Generally considered a substitute or complement for potatoes, rutabagas are big, solid vegetables with very little waste.

  • rutabaga-cubed
  • rutabaga-crate
  • rutabaga-freshly-harvested

Imagine some curious Swede purposely crossing a cabbage and a turnip, and then naming the result “root bag.” Sad to say, that is the historic truth behind the creation of our beloved rutabaga, one of the simplest, most useful (and edible) plants in today’s truck garden. Try growing rutabagas and even cooking rutabagas on time, and you might just be won over for life.

It’s surprising that a simple plant, so fat and round, could be confused with anything else, but such is the case with the rutabaga, which some folks call or think of as a turnip, when in fact a turnip is literally a horse of a different color. For additional confusion, consider that the rutabaga is referred to as “Swede” in much of Eastern Europe. It’s a Swedish turnip or yellow turnip in the United States and turnip in Ireland, but in Scotland it’s called “neep.” In northeastern England, turnips and rutabagas are called “snaggers,” so citizens there won’t confuse them with another large beet known as a mangel-wurzel.

If you have a complete genetic testing lab in your home and are still stymied by the differences between turnips and rutabagas, keep in mind that turnips have 20 chromosomes and rutabagas have 38 chromosomes (20 from their turnip ancestors and 18 from the cabbage side of the family). Lacking such equipment, just remember that, with a couple of exceptions (naturally), true turnips are small and white-fleshed while rutabagas are big and yellow-fleshed. But rest easy, there won’t be a quiz on this.

Telling a turnip from a rutabaga

The true turnip (which has been around for thousands of years and even grows wild in cooler places like Siberia) is fist-sized, bright purple on top and creamy white on the bottom. True turnips are easy to grow, mature in about eight weeks, and are popular spring plants grown as much for their tasty leafy greens as for their sweet white flesh.

The rutabaga, only created and noted since around 1620, requires up to 12 weeks to mature. It is a true fall crop that grows best during the cooler autumn and winter months. Rutabagas, which are dark purple on top with a yellowish bottom, are much larger than turnips (the world-record rutabaga weighs 77.8 pounds) and also provide tasty greens for the table.

Cooking rutabagas

Generally considered a substitute (or a complement) for potatoes, rutabagas are big, solid vegetables with very little waste. The skin is quite thick compared to most other vegetables, but the entire root is edible with no seeds, few soft spots, and very little waste in preparation. Because the root is hard and solid, care should be taken when peeling and cutting a rutabaga for the dinner table. It is best to cut the root into quarters or even eighths, and then begin the chopping process with more manageable pieces.

11/16/2011 2:05:09 PM

It's now mid-November in it too late to plant Rutabagas? The moon is right now, and if possible to plant them this late, I will go get seeds today.

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